Ali’s Bees by Bruce Olav Solheim

Ali’s Bees

Bruce Olav Solheim, Author

Gabby Untermayerova, Illustrations

CreateSpace, Fiction, Jul. 14, 2017

Pages: 142

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Immigration, Iraq, Loss, PTSD, Bees, Intergenerational relationships, Tolerance, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: There is a lot you can learn from bees. They may look aggressive, but they won’t sting you if you keep your cool and make them comfortable around you.

Ali wishes he could feel comfortable in his new home in Los Angeles, California. He loves living with his beekeeper grandfather, but he desperately misses his parents. They were killed in a terrorist attack in Iraq, and Ali was sent halfway across the world to live with his grandfather. In addition to the deep grief Ali faces, he is also struggling with post traumatic stress disorder from the attack.

Ali’s wise grandfather knows that working with the bees will help. Ali enjoys working with the bees so much that he announces he will do his science project on bees, their place in the world, and the dangers of colony collapse disorder. His work attracts the attention of Lupe, a friendly classmate with problems of her own, and Jenks, an angry bully who cares for his disabled father. The three form an unlikely connection through a funny bee dance and a cherished Mickey Mantle baseball card. Will it be enough to overcome their differences and the challenges each one faces?

Why I like this book:

Bruce Olav Solheim has written a sensitive and realistic story about an Iraqi teen boy who has lost his family to the horrors of war and comes to live with his grandfather in California. It is a positive story that challenges readers to understand the effects of war and to show compassion and tolerance towards immigrants as they learn new customs.

The characters are memorable.  Ali has been emotionally scarred by the loss of his parents during bombings.  He is grieving and suffers from PTSD. Sirens and loud noises remind him of war. His wise and patient grandfather, Jady, is a beekeeper. He has a steady and calming influence on Ali as he teaches him how to love and care for bees.  Ali makes friends with Lupe, who has her own family immigration problems, and Jenks who is a bully, but knows how to build things. They are unlikely and diverse threesome, yet perfect partners for Ali’s science project on bees.

The bees not only play a role in Ali’s emotional healing, but also promote the idea of teamwork as the students work together on their bee science project. Learning about bees also encourages readers to become interested in the plight of bees and the natural world.

The language is easy for  elementary students and teens to understand. Solheim’s pacing makes his engaging story a quick read. Pen and ink illustrations are scattered throughout the book and contribute to the story. Ali’s Bees would be a good book for families to read and discuss together and a great classroom book.

Bruce Olav Solheim served for six years in the US Army as a jail guard and helicopter pilot during the war. He has written five books and seven plays. He is a distinguished professor of history at Citrus College in Glendora, California. Solheim founded the Veterans Program at Citrus College and cofounded the Boots to Books transition course, which is the first college course for returning veterans. Solheim was born in Seattle, Washington, to Norwegian immigrant parents

*The author provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

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Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, May 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Bullying, Mean girls, Lies, Courage, Family relationships, Community, Tolerance

Awards: Newbery Honor Book, NPR Best Book, Booklist Best Book, Kirkus Reviews Best Book, School Library Journal Best Book

Prologue: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.  I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears — things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one.”

Synopsis: It is 1943. Eleven-year-old Annabelle McBride lives on a farm in a small, western Pennsylvania town, with her parents, two brothers, grandparents and Aunt Lily.  Annabelle leads a quiet, ordinary and carefree life, going to school everyday, doing her farm chores, supervising her younger brothers, and helping her mother cook meals in the kitchen. Then one fall morning a very mean-spirited girl named Betty Glengarry moves to Wolf Hollow and changes everything for Annabelle and the community. Betty is cruel and manipulative and easily spots the victims of her bullying through their weaknesses. For Annabelle, Betty threatens to harm her brothers if she doesn’t comply with her demands. Annabelle suffers many beatings on the path to school, until a quiet WW I veteran, Toby intervenes. Betty turns her vengeance on the kind-hearted recluse, and Toby becomes a target of her heartless and ruthless attacks. There are other victims too. As tensions mount, Annabelle’s goodness is her inner strength to do what is right.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk’s debut novel, Wolf Hollow, is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and beautiful. The setting, the characters, the plot and the gorgeous imagery are so brilliantly intertwined that they create an extraordinary experience for readers. One that you will remember for a long time. You learn about Wolf Hollow and its history of capturing and killing wolves. You feel the silence as you walk the path with Annabelle and ponder its darkness. You experience an extended family living under one roof preparing meals together, canning peaches and baking fresh bread in the oven. And you see contradictions in people who are frightening and neighbors who spread gossip at lightening speed.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Annabelle is kind-hearted to her very core. She is resilient and courageous. I loved experiencing the story narrative through her innocent and wise character.  She learns how to lie to protects others. Betty Glengarry is vicious and cruel. She knows how to use her charm to manipulate an entire community. Annabelle, who knows Betty’s contradictions, wants her to leave. I want her gone. Yet, as a reader I hope for her redemption and wonder about her vulnerabilities.  What made her so ruthless that she could break a quail’s neck, throw a rock and blind another student, string wire across the road to hurt Annabelle’s brother, and falsely accuse Toby of throwing her in a well?  Was she bullied herself? Even though she’s a bad apple, you worry for her safety. Toby is my favorite character. He’s a gentle man who goes to war, struggles with the atrocities he’s seen, becomes a recluse and wanders into Wolf Hollow. Toby is a quiet presence and his words are few.  He lives in a smoke house and walks the hollows. People think he’s odd, but he is a rare soul who is decent to his very core.

Wolk refrains from sharing all the detail about her characters leaving the reader to decide some things for themselves. The plot is riveting and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Like Annabelle, I found myself contemplating different scenarios. It is a story that will haunt you because of its depth, contradictions and unspoken truths. When I completed the Wolf Hollow, I was convinced I had been there. It is a story that will stay with you because of the profoundly human characters and the untidy ending.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. There are so many themes that can be explored.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Why is Dad So Mad?

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Seth Kastle, Author

Karissa Gonzales-Othon, Illustrator

Tall Tales Press and Kastle Books, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Military Families, PTSD, Anger, Family Relationships, Love

Opening: “Mom. Why is Dad so MAD all the time?”

Kastle Books Synopsis: Why Is Dad So Mad? Is a narrative story told from a family’s point of view (mother and children) of a service member who struggles with PTSD and its symptoms. Many service members deal with anger, forgetfulness, sleepless nights, and nightmares.This book explains these and how they affect Dad. The moral of the story is that even though Dad gets angry and yells, he still loves his family more than anything

Why I like this book:

  • Seth Kastle is a former Army combat soldier who suffers from PTSD following two tours served in the Middle East. I first saw him interviewed about this important book on the NBC Nightly News. 
  • Kastle has written this heartfelt picture book for his two daughters and other military families to help them understand the changes that occur when military members return from war.
  • The story narrative is told from the family’s point of view. The text is simple and straightforward, allowing for many questions and discussions between parent and child. The characters feature a family of lions, which is a gentle and less threatening way to portray a troubled family.
  • Kastle’s book is a labor of love for his family and for service members who want to start a dialogue with their children. There are many changes for military members returning from war and adjustments for the entire family. This book is a valuable resource that can encourage open and honest communications to help families get through some very tough times.
  • Karissa Gonzales-Othon’s illustrations are simply rendered in ink and pastels with a lot of white space. They help the reader focus on the lion’s emotions (angry roar) and his interactions between the lioness and the cubs.

Favorite Lines: “It’s Like Dad always has a FIRE inside his chest.  When he gets mad. The FLAME grows and grows really quickly. When he gets mad. It’s like the FIRE is in control of him.”

Note: Kastle has also authored a book Why is Mom So Mad?, which is scheduled for release in August 2015. He explains that there are very few books that “address the issues combat mothers face when they return to their families.”

Resources: Why is Dad So Mad is an excellent resource for families. First of all it helps children realize they aren’t the reason the parent is angry. The book helps children ask important questions and get answers. Dialogue between parent and child starts the healing process. Follow Seth Kastle at his website and on his Facebook page, Why is Dad So Angry, where there is a wealth of information for military families.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife9780670012091_p0_v1_s260x420The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Viking, Fiction, Jan. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes:  Father-daughter relationship,  Family problems, PTSD, Veterans

Book Jacket Synopsis: “For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both.  They move back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart. How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him?  What are you supposed to do when your father stops acting like an adult?”

Why I like this book: Laurie Halse Anderson’s heart-wrenching novel sensitively addresses the harsh reality of a family broken by war. Her plot is riveting and realistic. Her characters are well-developed with 17-year-old Hayley, an angry yet fragile teenager, who is dealing with very deep wounds — the death of her mother, abandonment by her father’s girlfriend, and parenting a father who suffers severe PTSD. She has watched her father go from the superhero soldier who made the world safe to the sobbing, raging and alcoholic father that she can’t depend upon. Hayley’s only school friend, Finn, brings some stability to her teenage life and the hope  she can believe in someone. Finn is a quirky character that provides the welcomed comic relief to the story. The book is a timely page turner with an unexpected twist at the end. The Impossible Knife of Memory will resonate with young people, but especially those dealing with parents suffering with PTSD.

Visit Laurie Halse Anderson at her website.

Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Healing Days9781433812934_p0_v1_s260x420Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Susan Farber Straus, Ph.D., Author

Maria Bogade, Illustrator

Magination Press., Fiction, May 18, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5 -11

Themes: Children facing trauma and tragedy, PTSD, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, Healing

Opening“Something bad happened to me.  I did not want anyone to know.  I was scared.  I was sad.  I was angry.  I was embarrassed.  I was hurt and confused.  I tried to forget.  I tried to sleep and not wake up.” 

Synopsis:  A child has had something scary happen.  We follow the child through feelings of hurt, confusion, anger and fear that the bad thing might happen again.  The child has bad dreams and is afraid of the dark.  At school there are run-ins with the teachers.  Friends notice the child isn’t fun to play with.  The child is lonely.  Finally an aunt notices differences and takes the child to talk with a therapist who helps the child share the secret.  Only then can intervention and healing begin for the child.

Why I like this book:  I am thrilled to find Susan Farber Straus’ very sensitive and comforting book due to its relevance in our world today.   Although the story is told from the viewpoint of one child, each page features pictures of a diverse group of children of all ages acting out the narrative.  This book is a fabulous tool for parents, guidance counselors and therapists to read with a child when they may suspect a trauma.  And that trauma could range from abuse, an accident, school and home violence, bullying, the sudden death of a parent or sibling to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and floods that are prevalent today in the world.  The book also helps children know they aren’t alone and that they can find ways to heal.  Maria Bogade’s illustrations are warm, and comforting, and beautifully show the emotion of the children.

Resources:  The book alone is a resource as the author is a clinical psychologist.  The American Psychological Association also has a list of helpful resources available online.  Also be sure to read the Note to Readers at the beginning of the book and check out the jacket flaps on the front and back pages.

Note:  I will be attending the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference this weekend, so I won’t be able to respond to your comments or posts until I return.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Never Fall Down – Child Soldiers

Never Fall Down

Patricia McCormick, Author

Balzer & Bray, May 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  YA Fiction, ages 14 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, Cambodia History, Courage, Genocide, Khmer Rouge, War

Opening Synopsis:  “When Arn Chorn-Pond was eleven, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime, came to power in Cambodia, herding the entire population to work camps in the countryside.  Families were separated, and everyone, including children, was forced to work long, grueling hours digging ditches and growing rice…Nearly two million people died — one quarter of the population.  They were buried in mass graves called the Killing Fields.  It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people.”

Patricia McCormick, who is known for taking on complex and tough subjects, has done it again with the story about the genocide that occurred in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia and tortured and killed its own people.  This extraordinary  story about Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old boy who survived, is true.  The author spent two years with Arn, retracing his life during the three years, eight months and twenty days reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.  This book is powerful, emotional, horrific, gruesome, and brutal.  It is an important book for young people and adults to learn about this period of history.   Yet, it is an inspirational story of survival, courage, hope and a testimony to human spirit.

Arn is a care-free boy catching frogs with his best friend and selling ice cream with his brother.   One day an army of soldiers dressed in black enter the village and force everyone to the countryside.  His aunt, four sisters and a brother gather a few belongings and food, and join the throngs of people who are walking away from their homes.  Arm works in the rice fields until, the Khmer Rouge separate him from his family and send him to another labor camp.  He watches starving kids die in the rice fields, and he tells himself that he must never fall down.  Arn finds every possible means to survive.

When the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument, Arn volunteers without knowing a single note.  The Khmer Rouge want to hear revolutionary songs and Arn becomes a very good musician.  He does so to keep himself and other kids alive.  He also learns to dance and entertain which gives him more freedom in the camp and access to more food, which he sneaks to kids.  Arn is taken to the Mango Trees, where he sees the piles of earth and smells the stench of death.  He knows  these Killing Fields  and the Khmer Rouge force him to do unthinkable things.  There is so much death, starvation and brutality, that we see Arn transform over time into an emotionless and numb boy.   As the Vietnamese approach, he is given a gun and used as a child soldier and spy.  He quickly realizes that the Khmer Rouge is using the kids as bait in the jungles.  He is always running, because if he falls down he knows he won’t get up.

Why I like this book:  Patricia McCormick chose to write the book in Arn’s natural speaking voice — broken English.  The story is told in first person making it an even more powerful, convincing, and real.  In Never Fall Down, McCormick gives Arn a voice to speak his truth and share the pain, which he found cathartic and part of his healing process.  He tells his story so people will know first hand what happened.  McCormick is the author of Purple Heart, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and SOLD, a National Book Award finalist.

Today Arn Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to peace and humanitarian causes around the world.  He founded the Children of War, an organization that aids children held hostage by war and violence.  He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, a group that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia by pairing young students with the few master musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge.   He has received the Amnesty International Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award.  He lives in Cambodia and spends part of his year speaking in the United States.

  

Support for the Veterans – PTSD

Many soldiers returning from war have survived one, two, three or more deployments.  They may have returned with serious  physical injuries, traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs, visual impairments and hearing loss.   Those are the identifiable physical wounds.

Then there are the invisible wounds that surface after soldiers return home.  Loved ones notice changes in their behavior, paranoia, anger, guilt, depression,  and flashbacks during sleep.  Many struggle with survivor’s guilt.  Others can’t find peace within because of the horrors they’ve seen and experienced.  Some are homeless.  I am talking about the veterans who return from war and struggle to adapt to everyday life.

Since 2003, more than 40,000 cases of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) have been diagnosed among veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  PTSD has existed since the beginning of modern civilization.  It was first identified during the Civil War.  It has been called many names, soldier’s heart, combat stress, battle fatigue, and shell-shock.

The U.S. Army has launched a campaign to reach soldiers at risk.   If you click on the link, you will see on Suicide Prevention and another video, “Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together,” designed to promote health, risk reduction, and suicide prevention.   There also is a book available to soldiers, The Home Front, available through the Army Suicide Prevention Office.

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The National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center (NVWHC), nestled in the beautiful alpine setting of Angel Fire, NM, is a program that offered eight week-long intensive therapeutic programs in 2011 for both veterans suffering with PTSD and their spouses. There was no charge for the 298 people who participated.  For some of the veterans attending (representing various wars), it was the first time they’ve spoken about what happened to them.  And, it was first time spouses spoke.  The retreats are built around traditional, alternative and Native American healing practices.  Those who attended have kept in touch through NVWHC reunions.  The program is accepting applications.   In 2011, news journalist Lisa Ling featured the camp on her program, “Our America,” on the OWN network.  Although the site has a wonderful video, I wanted you to catch a closer glimpse of what Lisa filmed during that week.